Qs & As: – Vinod Seegum – President GTU
Education begins at home and is pursued in the first lap at the primary school level. In today’s Qs & As, Vinod Seegum, President of the primary schools’ Government Teachers Union, tells us his appreciation of whether changes are taking place appropriately and what all we need to do to be up to the mark in view of evolving global exigencies in the area.
* As a practising teacher for the last 30 years at the primary level as well as trade unionist at the level of the Government Teachers Union (GTU) for the last 10-12 years, what’s your appreciation of the present education system and your views on its major weakness and strengths?
The present education system, despite so many recriminations against it, has lived up to the expectations. So many people have denounced the CPE, yet the bigger chunk of the present labour force is the product of the CPE. There is no education system in the world which can be qualified as perfect. Ours has been responding to the expectations of the Republic, though there is need to bring reforms in a bid to address its major weakness which is seen particularly in the high drop-out rate with around 30% failures at CPE each year, until recently. As at now, there is no proper remedial education in place to allow the slow learners to catch up.
* There may be no argument about the need for reform, the more so given the need for it to keep up with the country’s economic needs whose emphasis is gradually shifting away from low- to medium/high-skilled labour. Do you think the Minister of Education’s ‘Nine Year Continuous Basic Education Reform Plan’ will live up to that challenge?
We have to align the system on the international trend where the order of the day is to provide 9 years of continuous basic schooling. Mauritius is one of the rare countries where kids of less than 12/13 years are thrown out of the system on failing the CPE. The Nine Year Schooling (NYS) is meant to address this issue. The kids will be allowed to continue schooling till the age of 14/15. Which is highly commendable. It will give more time to adjust. With all stakeholders supporting the NYS, there is reason to think that the reform plan will succeed. In the interest of all.
* Does it anyway improve upon earlier reform proposals for the education sector?
It is a reviewed copy of the Action Plan of former Education Minister Kadress Pillay, which spoke about the construction of 60 Middle Schools. With the present Minister intending to use the actual secondary schools for implementing the NYS, this may pose a problem, as parents would be in a rat race to secure a place for their wards in the best regional college. There is need for further consultations with major stakeholders so as to come up to a solution or to jointly sensitize parents in support of the NYS coping with such situations to the benefit of all stakeholders, the children in the first place.
* A previous Minister of Education is however of the view that not much will change insofar as the “rat race” competition for “Star Schools”-cum-Academies is concerned, nor the prevalence of private tuitions, and we’ll end up producing the same output – and discrimination against students residing in rural areas with the Reform’s regionalisation proposals. What do you think?
It is a fact that a large majority of parents will focus on getting their wards in the best regional colleges. But the sensitization process will bear its fruits if it is done professionally, coupled with the uplift of the infrastructure in all major colleges so that they all stand on an equal footing and are seen to be so in terms of results. There is urgent need to see to it that all colleges have same infrastructure, environment, quality staff and curriculum.
* One other disturbing feature about the Reform, which has only recently come up, relates to the decision which would allow private secondary schools, confessionals included, to maintain their Forms I-to-VI stream. We may end up with a public-sector-only Reform affecting only State schools – in the same vein like previous Minister Obeegadoo’s structural programme, which had to be undone subsequently. ‘Government is government, and government decides,’ would have said Minister Gayan. Not so in the education sector, it would seem?
I am not aware if the government has acceded to private secondary schools, including confessionals, maintaining their Forms I to VI stream. In case they remain outside the reform, it would seem so unfair and would be a major hindrance. I believe that Government should open constructive dialogue with those concerned so as to achieve unanimity and equal standing, for the benefit of one and all. Gayan’s statement will not apply here as any unilateral decision in the education sector has so far proved to be a failure. There should be meaningful dialogue, so that such developments make it vital that teachers’ voices be heard at consultations tables. Government needs to start listening to education unions at all levels where education policy is developed.
* You would know better about teachers’ perspectives. It is said that if we want real improvement to happen in the education sector, we should be investing in the main agents for change: the teachers. And this has been missed out in most reform programmes. Would you say that this enabling factor has effectively been addressed in this Reform?
You are right to say that many a time teachers’ voices are not heard or are simply turned down. You would be aware that there still exist many high officials who are squarely anti-union, showing utter allergy to union’s claims and demands. Most fortunately the present Minister lends an attentive ear to our apprehensions and proposals. Many meetings have already been held with her in this context as Chairperson and, in our view, things are moving in the right direction.
* A cynical view would however suggest that teachers would see better prospects for private tuitions with Mrs Dookun-Luchoomun’s reform proposals. Is that indeed the case?
We do not concur with this statement. At GTU, we have never promoted private tuition per se. We believe in a system which is less competitive, with lesser private tuition therefore and with more emphasis on the integral development of the child. We have to abide by the general wish of parents to provide tuition to their kids in a democratic society, whilst ensuring however that there is no exaggeration in the giving of tuition whatsoever, a system in which teachers don’t force kids to in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Standards to take up private tuition. A round table to address the question of private tuition would be welcome.
* Generally speaking, would you say that teaching is a popular profession these days?
With the dire struggle, which has lasted more than 30 years, to align primary school teachers (PST) salaries on their secondary counterparts, the profession of PST has suddenly gained momentum with thousands flocking to join in. The status of PST will be further raised with the upcoming B.Ed. As for the GTU, it will leave no stone unturned to see that teachers are given due respect and the profession duly recognized by one and all.
* Both parents and the authorities themselves may also miss out on the fact that the teaching profession is a complex job: ‘Teachers are expected to teach children from all backgrounds, those who enjoy school and those who hate it, those with supportive parents and those with disengaged parents…’ Without the right support and ‘encadrement’, we may also end up having ‘disengaged’ teachers in the classroom, isn’t it?
Teachers evolve in very difficult situations. Policy makers can never appreciate all the intricacies of the job. It is only the practicing teacher who knows the ups and downs of the profession. The tragedy is that, most often, those who have never taught for one hour in a classroom are the policymakers. Primary School Teachers rarely reach a top-level position where decisions are taken. It is in this context that the Union claims a good “encadrement” for teachers, in a bid to offer encouragement to those who do a complex job: that of moulding future generations coming from different strata of society.
* The question of attracting, recruiting and retaining the best teachers might not have been addressed as it should by the competent authorities. We have to go beyond PRB to do that, don’t we?
You are right to say that we have to see beyond PRB as retaining the best ones is yet another “paire de manches”. We need those who have a passion for teaching, social work and redress, for improving the lot of poverty-stricken people… Government needs to come up with a package of incentives which would include visits to Rodrigues, Agalega, India, etc. and twin with schools in countries in which Education is conferred the highest priority.
- Published in print edition on 16 October 2015